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Alliance Defending Freedom

Mandate begins

And more news briefs

Issue: "School choice," Aug. 25, 2012

The federal contraceptive mandate kicked in for some religious groups Aug. 1, and a number announced they would not comply with the mandate. Wheaton College, the most prominent Protestant group to sue the federal government over the mandate, said it was subject to the mandate beginning Aug. 1 and it requested an emergency injunction against enforcement. If the federal government cracks down on Wheaton, the evangelical college could face $1.4 million in fines for not providing contraceptive coverage.

The Department of Health and Human Services may decline to enforce the mandate against such groups. Earlier this year the agency offered a one-year "safe harbor" from enforcement to religious nonprofits that object to the law and hadn't already been covering contraceptives. The safe harbor, however, doesn't apply to religious business owners, who are subject to the mandate if they have more than 50 employees.

At the end of July, just days before the mandate went into effect, one religious business owner in Colorado won a preliminary injunction against the mandate. Hercules Industries, which manufactures sheet metal, is under the ownership of a Catholic family, and the injunction only applies to that company. It was the first victory in court for mandate challengers. Two other challengers to the mandate lost initial rounds in district courts in July, with judges dismissing the cases on the grounds that the cases weren't ready for ruling.

Birth recession

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The number of babies born to the average U.S. woman over her lifetime could slide to its lowest level since the 1980s this year, likely due to the recession. Demographic Intelligence, a Virginia-based firm that forecasts birth rates for companies that make baby products, predicts a fertility rate of 1.87 for 2012. That's a 12 percent decline from 2007, when the rate was 2.12, which is about replacement level for a nation. The drop in births has been highest for teens and women under 25.

Sam Sturgeon, president of Demographic Intelligence, said the numbers show the sour economy is making young couples uncertain about having kids. The birth rate in the United States also declined sharply during the Great Depression and the 1970s oil crisis. Since 2009, U.S. population growth has been slower than at any time since the Depression.

Abortion bill blocked

The day before Arizona's ban on most late-term abortions was set to take effect on Aug. 2, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals blocked the measure.

The Arizona legislature passed the law in April that bars doctors from performing abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, except in cases of a severe medical emergency for the mother. Penalties for physicians violating the ban include misdemeanor criminal charges and possible revocation of their medical licenses.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Reproductive Rights challenged the law in July. A U.S. district judge ruled on July 30 that the law was permissible, and said the state had provided "substantial and well documented evidence" that an unborn child can feel pain by 20 weeks of development. The San Francisco-based 9th Circuit Court of Appeals blocked that ruling two days later. But the battle isn't over: Both sides will present briefs to the court by mid-October, and wait for a new hearing.

Ignored threats

When the State Department issued its annual International Religious Freedom Report on July 30, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the catalog of religious persecution "sends a signal to the worst offenders that the world is watching." But some religious freedom advocates wondered: Are we watching all of the worst offenders?

The report includes a list of countries of particular concern-nations that the State Department considers especially egregious offenders of religious freedom. But the list has remained the same since 2009: Burma, North Korea, Eritrea, Iran, China, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Uzbekistan.

Religious freedom advocates affirm that list, but call for additions, including places like Egypt, where thousands of Christians have fled the threat of religious oppression since last year. Meanwhile, Christians in Nigeria face weekly death threats: Since 2009, the Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram has killed hundreds of Christians across northern Nigeria-often while they gather for worship.

Out of power

The largest blackout in global history left 670 million people in India in the dark July 31, leading to fears that India's infrastructure cannot support its growing economy. A day earlier, another blackout wiped out power to 300 million in Northern India.

While officials could not name a cause for the outage, many blame the effects of a poor monsoon season on an already inadequate power system. With less rainfall, farmers pump more water out of wells, thereby overdrawing power from the grid. The lack of rainfall also cut the amount of power India's hydroelectric dams can produce. Others also point to India's policy of heavily subsidizing electricity-which factories often take advantage of-leaving the grid overburdened.

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